Devpro Resource Centre


Location, design and construction

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0559/Naing
Students attend class for the first time since the cyclone, in Hlaing Thar Yar Township in the southern Yangon Division.

Context and challenge: Natural disaster and poverty create a powerful need for child-friendly spaces

In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar with catastrophic force, killing 140,000 people and causing more than $10 billion of damage. The country’s remote river delta areas were hit hardest. More than a million people lost their homes and livelihoods, and thousands of children were separated from their families in the chaos. More than 4,000 schools were destroyed or badly damaged, while many more lost valuable learning materials, latrines and furniture. With few actors involved apart from UNICEF, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts are proceeding slowly.

In a country where 32 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, the cyclone has increased the economic and psychosocial burden on children. A larger number of young people now work to support their families than before the cyclone, with adolescents moving to urban centres in search of jobs. Girls are increasingly vulnerable to sexual abuse, exploitation, trafficking and violence, and a staggering number of children need psychosocial support.

In addition to turmoil created by the cyclone, long distances to schools, language barriers for ethnic minority children, and shortages of qualified teachers and teaching materials create obstacles to quality education.

Myanmar is nonetheless on track to achieve universal primary education by 2015, with current net school enrolment rates at more than 85 per cent for both boys and girls. But less than 55 per cent of the country’s children complete primary school, and early childhood development services remain critically underdeveloped.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0562/Naing
Boys read a UNICEF-provided illustrated book on life skills, in Hlaing Thar Yar Township in the southern Yangon Division.

Action: Creating child-friendly spaces

In the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, UNICEF assisted the Government of Myanmar in establishing child-friendly learning spaces to function as temporary replacement schools. As a result, nearly 400,000 primary schoolchildren in cyclone-affected areas were able to resume their schooling. These child-friendly spaces became key psychosocial rehabilitation efforts, allowing children to gather and play in safe and protected areas. The temporary learning spaces, which were situated in special tents, were designed by an international architect and built by private contractors.

UNICEF’s emergency education response, however, is fundamentally guided by the principle of ‘building back better’. The goal is to harness the need created by disaster as a catalyst to provide children with a better quality education than was previously available. As a result of advocacy on this front, Myanmar’s Ministry of Education asked UNICEF to construct nine model child-friendly schools (CFS) in cyclone-affected areas. These schools go beyond the immediate needs fulfilled by temporary learning spaces and establish a precedent for safe, stable and quality educational environments across the country.

UNICEF again contracted with an international architect, who spent two months in Myanmar working on designs in close collaboration with a team of engineers from the Ministry of Education. The cyclone and earthquake-resistant schools are designed to serve as community shelters in the event of future disaster. Each school’s design includes water and sanitation facilities for girls and boys, a library, a playground, a fence, a teachers’ room and furnishings; provisions for children with disabilities are in place.

The designs incorporate traditional architecture, while including innovations to reduce heat and noise, and use materials that are readily available locally. The Government of Myanmar finalized and approved the designs, and construction began in early 2009.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0619/Thame
Workers repair the roof of a school that was partly damaged during the cyclone.

Impact and opportunities: Safe spaces for rehabilitation and education offer widespread opportunity to ‘build back better’

As a result of UNICEF’s efforts, 135 temporary child-friendly spaces were made operational, providing psychosocial care and support for 29,300 children (15,100 girls and 14,200 boys) as well as recreational and learning activities, and referral services. The original nine model child-friendly schools are now ready, with an additional 28 to be built by 2010.

The learning environment for 150,000 children has been improved through renovation of 660 primary schools and installation of 1,300 latrines in 12 priority townships. For the 2008/09 academic year, enrolment increased by 7.2 per cent in these targeted areas. And there are plans to implement the child-friendly school initiative in more than 1,000 schools and to train 4,500 teachers in CFS and child-centred methodologies.

Although much has been achieved, UNICEF and the education sector in general continue to face considerable challenges. As the only recognized partner of the Ministry of Education, supporting schools damaged by Cyclone Nargis has been a huge undertaking for one agency.

In areas in which UNICEF has not been able to support a local school, communities – many of which are deeply impoverished and still recovering from the devastation – have relied on their own resources to create temporary learning spaces or repair and rebuild education infrastructure.

The model child-friendly schools that are slowly being built throughout the country serve as a reminder that it is indeed possible to ‘build back better’.

12 June 2009



A focus on

Child-Friendly Schools Manual, Chapter 3, ‘Location, design and construction’ 2009 | PDF English

To learn more

UNICEF, Child-Friendly Schools Manual, 2009 | PDF English

UNICEF, Global Capacity Development Programme on Child-Friendly Schools | website

UNICEF, Resources on Child-Friendly Schools | website

UNICEF, 'Quality education and child friendly schools,' Actions for Children Issue 5, March 2009 | PDF English | French | Spanish

New enhanced search